The Seed and the Story: Spider Lilies, Signs of Fall

Everywhere you look lawns and wooded areas are sprinkled with narrow stemmed, red flowers that appear to pop up out of nowhere. Often referred to as Spider Lilies, these bulb perennials indicate fall is near. Many plant lovers claim they bloom two weeks after the first late summer/early fall rain, and if there’s no September rain they may refuse to bloom whatsoever.  After our recent heavy rains in central Arkansas they’ve began popping up in yards, vacant lots, and in the middle of gardens. They especially thrive under trees or large bushes that lose their winter leaves, allowing the plants to soak up the summer rain and sun energy.

No doubt there’s something magical about these flowers that appear literally overnight. Known by their Latin name Lycoris, in day to day life these plants have a variety of fascinating names, which often change region to region. Last week I posted a photo of these flowers on the blog and asked what readers called these beautiful plants.

The most common name readers mentioned was “naked ladies.” Some said this name was reserved only for the pink variety of Lycoris that bloom in the spring, while others grew up hearing the name used to refer to the autumn variety as well.  Multiple people from the Yell County area said the name refers to their lack of foliage, the stalks growing literally naked with no leaves or ground cover. Readers also mentioned the name Hurricane Lilies for those that grow near the coast and follow heavy rains. Surprise Lilies is another popular moniker in reference to the unexpected appearance of these flowers with no ground foliage to indicate the presence of their bulbs underground. According to some of the readings I came across sometimes they are referred to as Resurrection Lilies, but I’ve never heard anyone actually use that phrase.

Today these lilies, members of the amaryllis family, are firmly established throughout the south and grow wild in many areas. Originally, however, they came from Japan, brought over in the mid 1800s after Commodore William Perry succeeded in opening doors for trade with the nation. According to multiple sources, aboard one of those first ships was a man named Captain William Roberts, a horticulture lover. He took some of the bulbs back home to plant in North Carolina. Initially they didn’t bloom, leading his niece to discover their dormancy period prior to cooler temperatures and heavy rain. They eventually took well to the region and spread across the south.

These flowers continue to bloom throughout Japan and China, and are often planted near cemeteries and used as part of funeral arrangements. While many of these plants come up unexpected, you can order bulbs from seed companies and purposefully plant them throughout your yard.   Do you have any growing in your yard? What’s the name you use to refer to them? What stories have you heard about this beautiful flower? I’d love to hear from you.

What other signs are popping up, letting us know fall is on the way? I’d love to hear your stories and include them in future columns! Thanks so much for reading!